Raha Moharrak Image Credit: Supplied

Jeddah: Raha Moharrak’s parents wanted  her to get married, but the young Saudi woman had other plans.

“It was not planned but I always loved the idea of travelling and being adventurous. I randomly fell in love with mountains and knew I wanted to become a mountaineer,” she told Gulf News.

“My father tried to stop me from climbing but it made me want it even more. I’m rebel with a heart,” Moharrak said.

Although many Saudi women have gone into various sports and physical fitness occupations and attitudes are slowly changing, there remains a segment of society that has not yet embraced the concept.

Her parents were wary of such an occupation as it wasn’t something they believed society would accept.

Moharrak went on to become the first Saudi woman to scale the seven summits — the highest peak in each continent — Mount Kilimanjaro (5895m), Africa; Mount Elbrus (5642m), Europe; Mount Vinson (4897m), Antarctica; Mount Aconcagua (6962m), South America; Mount Kosciuszko (2228m), Australia; Mount Denali (6190m), North America; and Mount Everest (8,848m), Asia.

But before she racked up her impressive feats, she underwent serious and grueling training.

The young girl from Hijaz, scoured the internet reading up on climbing and mountaineering.

She trained herself by walking long distances in heavy boots and carrying a 25kg backpack, in rugged terrains just outside of Jeddah.

Moharrak is a juxtaposition of athleticism and femininity.

The bold and beautiful mountaineer’s first ascent was Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2011.

Afterwards she was invited to be part of Princess Reema Bint Bandar’s first Saudi female team to go to the Everest Base camp in 2012.

“When I saw Everest, it felt like a calling. It was so strange for someone who had climbed only one mountain. I knew I was meant to go back. I believed I was going to climb the highest mountain in the world,” said Moharrak.

It was then that the desire to climb the highest peaks became an insatiable quest.

Within a year and a half, Moharrak climbed six summits and two extinct volcanoes in Mexico before reaching the foot of Mount Everest in March 25, 2013.

On May 18, 2013, Moharrak reached the peak.

“When I reached the top I felt like a Pandora’s box on steroids. Can you believe that a Saudi woman was literally standing on top of the world? It was really hard to grasp. There were two conflicting emotions. I felt grandiose but I also felt like a speck of dust on the highest mountain of the world,” she said.

It was the high and mighty Mount Everest that catapulted Moharrak to immense fame and recognition.

“It’s a big feat because it is not only the highest mountain in the world; it is also the toughest mountain to climb. It has a lot of prestige and a lot of bragging rights.”

With a never-say-never attitude, Moharrak said she “never ever felt once like giving up” even when things did not go as scheduled due to unpredictable weather or fellow climbers’ attitudes.

“The only thing that you can control is your attitude and outlook. Everything else should be left to God, luck, and fate,” she said.

A graphic designer by profession, most of Moharrak’s climbing expeditions were self-financed, and her family, who finally came around and accepted her passion, also paid for a few.

Moharrak is a juxtaposition of athleticism and femininity.

On her Instagram page, which has around 35k followers, Moharrak can be seen climbing mountains with no makeup and messy hair while sporting fashionable brands like Tag Heuer, Dior and Burberry.

Breaking cultural taboos that women can be both glamorous and athletic, Moharrak said, “I’m taking every opportunity to build a meaningful legacy, and try to change certain perceptions in my society that I don’t agree with.”

She is optimistic about a new reform push in the country led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman that has led to greater freedoms for women such as a lift of the ban on driving, opening up to women’s sports, and pushing more women in the workforce.

But Moharrak has been pushing for this for over eight years.

“I have worked really hard to open doors for Saudi women and now I hope more women will seize the opportunity to walk through those doors,” she said.

“I can be standing on top of the world but it means nothing if I am the last person doing something great for my country.”

-Sadiya A Nadeem is a freelance journalist based in Jeddah